Interviewing the Agent

52807764 - young couple looking for properties
52807764 - young couple looking for properties

Written by: Christopher Chitty 

So, you've finally compiled that list of agents to interview. What now?

Contrary to popular belief, the next step isn't to deploy your army of agents with the blessing of 'may the odds be ever in your favour', then sit back and black out like Katniss Everdeen in the pointless fourth Hunger Games movie. 

Instead, the first thing to do is ask each agent how long they've been in the business. Most Singaporeans attach age and seniority with technical prowess and ability and while that may be indicative of the agent's abilities in some cases, at times it might be a detriment. 

Experienced agents with several years in the industry may be knowledgeable but does that experience come with a risk? Since they're so sought after, will they have enough time to properly represent your interests? 

When an agent is beset with multiple offers to help sell or procure a house, he has the advantage in picking which property to deal with first; usually the one where he stands to make the most money out of, the quickest. If you've got a 3-room HDB flat to sell, where do you figure in this equation?

On the other hand, hiring a less experienced agent might mean he is more dedicated to you, but he may end up projecting desperation in selling your property due to lower prospect opportunity.  

This is not to say that every experienced agent is arrogant and every inexperienced agent is a bundle of nerves. Interviewing them carefully will determine which group works for you. Besides, knowledge can be acquired easily enough if one applies themselves. But if an agent only cares about his commission and not your needs, no amount of expertise will make your life easy.

So, remember to find an agent who listens to you and will the extra mile

"Um, hey Jeff? Could you stop looking at my house like it's a piece of meat?"

After you've shortlisted a few, a pertinent question to ask is (if you're selling) how they intend to market your property and what strategies they'll be implementing to give you the most reach. 

As a buyer you'll want to know the parameters the agent will utilise to search for your new home and how many you can expect to visit on a given week/month. You'll also want to determine if the agent is clear on what type of home you're looking for with qualifiers like bedroom size, budget, location, extent of renovation needed top of mind. 

You may also check if there will be competition with other buyers, and if the agent will help to handle (i.e. scrutinize and evaluate) multiple offers with you.

As a seller, establish how the agent intends to sell your home. Does he have a direct mail campaign and a sample flyer to show you? Also, in the technological era, how robust is his online presence? This extends extensively to how he markets properties online and how often. You can also check if there'll be advertising through other media such as newspapers, and the frequency and/or time of the advertisement; although traditional avenues may increase expenditure while not producing quality and quick results. 

If the agent comes with a good track record, you are well within your means to request for references. Most who receive written commendations from buyers or sellers they've helped will be proud to show off the good work they've done. Be wary of agents who take offence to this question.

However, even though you've got an agent to do most of the legwork for you, it doesn't preclude you from getting involved. Ensure that the agent will let you review all the documents before you sign. This is exceptionally important because you must be involved in the whole process even if you aren't organizing the paperwork.

A good agent will acquiesce to this request and will offer to walk you through it. This is a sign that the agent is adequately versed in the legalities surrounding your transaction and is confident in executing said duties.

At this point, begin discussing fees and negotiate if necessary. As most agents in Singapore receive anywhere between 1-2% commission, negotiation isn't really necessary. When they do their job, they earn and deserve that money. Don't do them the disservice of ripping their rice bowl from them just to save some cash. It is unethical. However, this percentage may be a problem if you're buying instead of selling. If you have to have this conversation, observe some tack when you sit your agent down to explain the situation.

But what you should ask for however, is a guarantee of some kind the agent can give pertaining to your sale/purchase. Typically this translates to a fixed period for the agent to do his marketing/sourcing and provide you with a buyer or a house you can purchase.

Both you and the agent will determine how much time is needed to market and when results can be expected, based upon existing market conditions. For instance, if you're selling a house before or during Chinese New Year or Christmas, it is impractical to expect anything substantial to happen within a few days. 

Real estate agent with couple in luxury home. They are shaking hands. There is a water view, kitchen and living room in the background. Couple are casually dressed. They are laughing. Agent is dressed in a suit and smiling. Wide angle.

"So we're agreed? 2% commission for you and I'll hang your photograph over our bed,"

Once you've settled the intricacies of how you and your agent will be working together, now is when you mentally align those principles with a couple of key follow-up qualifying questions.

Ask the agent to define himself and how he stands out from his competition to get a feel of where they thinks they stand on a business and moral standpoint. Watch out for agents that deliberately belittle his competition to make himself look better.

As a customer, you want an agent who is honest and trustworthy, assertive, an excellent negotiator, a good communicator, friendly, intelligent, calm and collected and most importantly, readily available through phone or e-mail at any time...sounds like ad for a date but you get the point. 

The way the agent describes himself and the tone he uses is critical. Did he sound confident or condescending? Was he unsure of himself or seemed uninterested? 

In addition, if an agent declares himself to be all or some of the above, he will constantly be psychologically aware of his promise to you, thus in most cases, ensuring his cooperation.

Last but not least, ask the agent if there is anything else you should know which he has yet to tell you. You want an agent who will take his time with you and give good advice as well as maintain honesty throughout. If the agent spends more time posturing and boasting, you do not want to hire him. If he is thoughtful and answers your question objectively, then add him to your shortlist.

It's possible there are other question, especially ones that are unique to your needs. Don't think that just because an agent makes time to speak to you in the beginning that you are expected to enlist their services. You are by no means obligated and should take your time to evaluate a few agents before deciding on the best one for you. Many times, this also means going with your gut feel and enlisting the one whom you feel a positive connection with. Such nuances can't be taught though, so it's things to keep at the back of your mind. 

Remember that you will be dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially millions; so you'll want someone who has a mind for the business but most importantly, a mind for your needs. 

So as a final rule of thumb, always hire an agent who will have your interest at heart. This means being wary of agents who are recommended by a seller or who are co-broking with another agent that's representing the other party. While we're not suggesting that these individuals will be unscrupulous, it does blur the lines a bit too much where transparency is concerned. Then, observe our recommendations and refine where necessary. 

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